Does my vision align with your expectation? That’s the question I want to ask in responding to a request to speak, or to photograph, or to facilitate a meeting, or to provide coaching or instruction. Often I’m spot on, but that’s not the point. The dialog of checking in is always helpful. And creating the opportunity to be pushed toward some change is crucial.

If they don’t align, what should change?  Did I not fully hear or understand you?  Or, after hearing my questions and concerns, are your expectations different.  At best, this is a dance, in which each of us gets a chance to lead, but we both welcome the process.

I’m writing this, having just emailed a “client” on this theme, and am feeling great that I’ve the confidence, the inquisitiveness, and the clarity to share my vision and hold it up for review.

Yes — life is a collaborative process!

My learning doesn’t stop

January 21, 2016

 

I’m learning with every step, becoming clearer, more curious, asking better questions that help others find more insight and clarity.  Here I’ve tried to trace some of this development:

  • As an undergraduate at Swarthmore College I learned to ask deep questions, to tell the truth, to be skeptical about making any assumptions, and to listen carefully to get past surface chatter.
  • My scientific training (at Swarthmore and at Harvard) taught me about creating and refining models. A model is useful because it leaves almost everything out, but can be problematic for the same reason — because it leaves almost everything out. We create and evaluate imperfect models all the time, and knowing how to deconstruct them is critical.
  • A summer working with the respected social scientists Robert Abelson and Philip Zimbardo on the manuscript for “Canvassing for Peace” gave me very practical experience developing strategy, testing its application on small sample sizes, responding to surprises, and implementing a revised and well grounded plan. It was also an opportunity for me to explore collaboration between academics and activists.
  • Several years working with the American Friends Service Committee – first as a member of their Peace Education Staff and then as director of public relations (at AFSC this was called “Information Services”) taught me how to target and focus messages about controversial topics — keeping some edge, but building on shared values and concerns.
  • Years of experience as a manager in a small rapidly growing software company, that during my tenure became a division of General Electric, taught me how to work effectively within complex organizations, collaborating with competing management segments. This job offered me a “sandbox” to learn about power, loyalty, innovation, and the importance of clearly defined mission and plan.
  • Working as an independent consultant – designing and developing information systems for business and non-profit organizations,or focusing on usability and user interface – I honed my skills of listening, of change management, and of assessment and evaluation.
  • Through all these years, I served on the boards of a variety of non-profit organizations – nurturing the Merriconeag Waldorf School (now called the Maine Coast Waldorf School) from a nursery and kindergarten into a K – 8 school with a million dollar building and significant organizational capacity, running a capital campaign for a Quaker study and conference center in Western Massachusetts, helping a local interfaith organization grow from a dream into a vibrant reality. I also had the opportunity to work with organizations that were seriously fractured, and learned what kinds of weaknesses most easily lead to failure, and how best to address these.
  • Participation in the year long “Leadership Intensive” program offered by the Institute for Civic Leadership (now called “Lift 360”) gave me a chance to reflect on all these experiences, to explore models of collaborative facilitation and leadership, and to develop more connections within the greater Portland business and non-profit community.
  • As a consultant to non-profits, I’ve honed my skills at facilitation, strategic planning, coaching, questioning, collaborating, and leading workshops and retreats.
  • For three years, I was Recording Clerk of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends – taking minutes of week long gatherings at which as many as 500 Quakers from around New England conducted the society’s business. My task was to listen and record, with each formal minute approved as the meeting progressed. Often it was my job to suggest a minute that reflected the unity we had found, but also the matters that still required more work together. I was considered part of the session leadership, but viewed my role as a servant task.  I found my gift of helping a community find its voice — both the voice of its agreement, but also of the discord or lack of clarity.  It’s a gift to be able to articulate clearly the points of our disagreement.
  • I’m a great listener, a reconciler, and a creative force skilled in consensus-based approaches. I was one of the authors of book chapter on the process of Quaker decision making, and have often been called upon to help divergent groups work together. Working within complex organizations, I know how to formulate great questions, and draft talking points that will help others facilitate constructive change.
  • I’ve another life as a photographer of dance. While this might not appear to be parallel to the other experiences listed above, I do believe that deep engagement in a creative process – where even with best efforts things don’t always proceed as expected or as planned, and where agility can be as important as mastery – offers many lessons that are surprisingly applicable.

 

Recently I was asked to comment about how best to engage donors to a nonprofit.

My answer — Ask the right questions.  Decide what conversation you’d like to have, and figure out what QUESTIONS will start that off.  Donors like to be listened to, like to be heard, and like to be treated as important.  Asking the right questions, and then listening carefully will make a huge difference.

Is there a story that you’d like to tell. Don’t just blurt it out. Wait for the question, to which your story is a wonderful answer.

An example: “Why have you been so generous with us . . . with three very significant contributions in just the past year?”  That’s not a question many fundraisers would ask. But prompting the key donor to review his or her satisfaction in supporting your work may be more effective than any words you might provide about why your work matters.

One caveat, however:  You must care about the answer you will receive.  Asking questions just for effect won’t work at all.  The donor or prospect may surprise you, may confirm your understanding or expectations, may challenge you.  But, whatever its effect, the answer will be important.

The importance of the answer – That’s a major part of what makes a great question.

One caveat